The Korea Herald


First female CEO takes helm at Kakao

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : March 28, 2024 - 16:04

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Kakao's new CEO, Chung Shin-a (Kakao) Kakao's new CEO, Chung Shin-a (Kakao)

Korean IT giant Kakao on Thursday appointed Chung Shin-a as its first female, chief while it is facing urgent challenges in revamping its corporate culture and management.

The announcement was made as she gained a nod from shareholders during the annual meeting and a separate approval from the board of directors earlier in the day at the company’s headquarters in Jeju Island.

After being named as the CEO nominee in December, Chung has served as the head of the company’s innovation task force and chair of its strategy committee, seeking ways to reform Kakao. She also engaged with over 1,000 employees more than 20 times before taking the helm to come up with implementation plans, the company said.

Based on this preparation, she plans to focus on Kakao’s new growth engines centered on artificial intelligence and build a responsible decision-making structure.

“We’ll accelerate our restructuring efforts to achieve innovation that meets both external expectations and shareholder perspectives,” Chung said upon her appointment. “We’ll also secure new growth engines through the development of artificial intelligence-based services that only Kakao can offer.”

To enhance AI technology and services, the company will consolidate various teams scattered throughout the organization into an integrated AI unit. This unit will focus on experimenting with diverse generative AI-based services, aiming to strengthen both rapid execution and research and development capabilities.

To lead the era of “AI in everyday life,” Kakao will combine its platform development experience with cutting-edge technologies. Under the plan, the IT giant has appointed Lee Sang-ho, a former CTO who served as the head of SK Telecom's AI business, as the new chief AI officer. He will lead AI technology and service development across the company.

In addition to organizational restructuring to align with the company’s envisioned rapid growth, Kakao plans to simplify decision-making steps and organizational structures and reducing the number of positions to clarify employees’ responsibilities and authority.

During the shareholders’ meeting, Kakao also appointed a new ESG committee chair and the group legal compliance director, hoping they will actively engage with various stakeholders and contribute their expertise to establishing advanced governance systems and ethical management. The company also welcomed two new outside directors.

None of the new directors, including Chung, physically joined this year's annual meeting. Instead, Hong Eun-taek, who stepped down from the CEO post on Thursday led the meeting and shared Kakao's future directions with shareholders.

When some shareholders raised concerns over Kakao's sluggish stock price, he apologized for the stock price not meeting shareholders' expectations but showed a positive outlook that newly appointed executives would do their best to ensure a long-term rise in the firm's stock price and maximize shareholder profits.

Regarding the recurring moral hazard issues the company has had in the management, Hong said the company appointed the most appropriate people after reviewing recommended candidates, with the evaluation criteria designed to analyze the candidates from various angles.

Earlier this month, the company nominated Jung Gue-don, the former CTO of Kakao Bank as the tech chief of Kakao. The new appointment, however, has been facing a backlash, as Jung had come under fire for selling off some 7.6 billion won of stocks in Kakao Bank for a quick profit.

"After taking office as sole representative, I focused on two things -- growth and stability. I believe that the new CEO will continue to lead growth, and expect and support her to achieve future-oriented innovation, while actively communicating with employees," Hong said in the last remark as the CEO.

Meanwhile, Chung’s official term will last until the regular general shareholders meeting in March 2026.